The White House is out with a thick stack of proposals for spreading Internet access far and wide, and for speeding up the Web in places where competition is still lacking.
The plan highlights the way President Obama has made broadband a pillar of his domestic agenda, setting goals for agencies ranging from the Department of Justice to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In other words, broadband isn't just a matter for telecommunications nerds anymore: As more Americans come to view the Internet as a basic necessity, every part of the government is finding itself part of an overall broadband strategy.
The Broadband Opportunity Council Report released Monday calls for federal agencies to develop new rules and to streamline the way they give out funding for building Internet infrastructure and online services. It sees the Department of Health and Human Services awarding 50 grants worth $25 million to expand the use of electronic medical records. The Department of Agriculture is set to hand out $5 billion in funding for smart grids that can intelligently route electricity based on real-time demand. And in general, the government wants to make it easier for private companies to invest in Internet pipes and cell towers, particularly on federal lands.
While these commitments promise to upgrade the country's Internet infrastructure, the biggest step promotes a policy aimed at enhancing competition among Internet providers.
Known as "dig once," the idea helps lower the cost of laying down new high-speed Internet cables by making it unnecessary to tear up the streets every time a company wants to reach new homes with its underground network. Dig-once policies recommend laying a single tube in the ground through which all Internet wires can go. Once it's there, any company that wants to add fiber can just route their cables through that existing conduit — cutting the cost of broadband deployment by up to 90 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Making it easier and less expensive to offer new Internet service could potentially result in lower Internet prices and improved speeds.
"'Dig Once' policies promote broadband competition, reduce costs for broadband providers and decrease road-related costs from repeated excavation," the report reads.